Arc de Triomphe history
The history of the Arc de Triomphe dates back a long time. Not surprisingly, it was built in order to honor military victories. This impressive monument was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon after his decisive victory of the Russo-Austrian army in the battle of Austerlitz in 1806. As this was during the peak of his fortunes, Napoleon wanted something to honor, not only the victory at Austerlitz, but also his previous victories.
The construction of the Arc de Triomphe began quickly, but the construction process proved to be a long and difficult one. Laying the foundations alone took nearly two years. Napoleon himself never got to see the Arc de Triomphe finished, due to his defeat in the battle of Waterloo 1815.
After Napoleon lost the battle, he was forced to surrender his throne and the victorious Coalition force which defeated him installed Louis XVIII in his place. The new king had Napoleon exiled and the construction of Arc de Triomphe stopped. The construction later began again in 1833 during the reign of Louis-Philippe and the Arc stood completed in year 1836.
The result is what you can see today; a near 50m high and 45m wide masterpiece. It is one of the largest Arc of Triumph in the world, placing second, only beaten by the Arc in Pyongyang, North Korea.
The monument was designed by the French architect Jean Chalgrin in 1806. Chalgrin later died in 1811. During the construction process a number of other architects carried out his work. The design of Arc de Triomphe is inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus, located in Rome, but in a more Neo-classical style.
Throughout the years, the Arc de Triomphe has been the place of many other major event and national celebrations. In 1840, Napoleon’s body passed under the Arc on its way to its second and final resting place at Les Invalides.
There has also been many famous victory marches under the Arc, including the Prussians in 1871 after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, the French in 1918 after the First World War, the Germans in 1940 as they conquered Paris and the French and Allied forces again in 1944 and 1945.
Why visit Arc de Triomphe ?
The Arc de Triomphe is one of France’s most famous monuments and definitely a must see for anyone traveling to Paris. Today, the Arc de Triomphe is visited by millions of people each year. The Arc is not only fascinating to look at; visitors also have the possibility to enter the top. From there, one can get a great view over central Paris. However, the Arc is more known for is its many wonderful reliefs and sculptures.
On the outside of Arc de Triomphe, above the large vault, visitors will see the richly sculptured frieze of soldiers which pictures scenes from various battles. Among them are Napoleons victory over the Turkish in the battle of Aboukir and when Napoleon defeated the Austrians during the Battle of Austerliz. Above this, one can see a row of shields. These shields honor the major Revolutionary and Napoleonic military victories, as each one of the 30 shields carries the name of a specific battle.
The inside walls
The inside walls of Arc de Triomphe also honor the French military. Inside the Arc, visitors can see a long list with the names of French generals. Some of the names are underlined, which indicate that the general died in battle. Also inscribed, on the shorter sides of the four supporting columns, are the names of the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
The column statues
The most prominent feature of Arc de Triomphe is however the large statues which rests at the base of the columns. Anyone traveling to Paris to visit the Arc de Triomphe will most likely be astonished by the sheer size and the detail of these magnificent statues.
By looking at the Arc Looking from Champs-Elysées, the most famous one can be found on the right side; “Departure of the Volunteers of ’92” – commonly called “La Marseillaise”. This sculpture was made by François Rude and depicts the French people rallying against enemies from abroad. The citizens, who you can see is it both nude and in classical armor, are united under the Roman goddess of war, Bellona.
One the left side, visitors can enjoy “The Triumph”, made by Jean-Pierre Cortot. In the middle stands a statue of Napoleon, as he just conquered another town who surrendered at his feet. “The Triumph” also features the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria, crowning Napoleon with a crown of wreath. In the back stands a historian, inscribing Napoleons new conquering into a stone tablet.
On the opposite side of “The Triumph”, that is the side of the Arc looking away from Champs-Elysées, stands “Resistance”. This sculpture shows a naked soldier defending his family, urged on by the Roman goddess of future, Antevorte.
The last sculpture of the four is called “Peace”. It shows a man show puts his sword back into his scabbard, under the protection of Minerva, the Roman warrior goddess. Behind the man, visitors can see the peasants going back to their ordinary daily work. Since the fall of Napoleon in 1815, this sculpture has been interpreted as a celebration of the peace that followed his defeat.
The Tomb of the Unknown
A very special grave is located just beneath Arc de Triomphe. This grave provides the final rest for one of the many unidentified soldiers who died during the First World War. It is known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On the grave a flame burns in memory of the dead, not only for this man, but for all unidentified dead soldiers who lost their lives in during the two World Wars.
The coffin was put in its final resting place on 28 January 1921. On top of the grave you can read the inscription “ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918” which means “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914–1918”. In 1961, the US President, John F. Kennedy paid his respect at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by French President and war hero Charles de Gaulle.
Arc de Triomphe location
The place, previously known as “Place de l’Etoile”, is also called “the Star Square”, due to the fact that no less than twelve streets emanates from it.The Arc itself can be accessed by going through an underpass.
Standing at the end of Champs-Elysées, the Arc is said to link the old Paris and the new Paris, as it is situated between the Louvreon one side, and the financial district with its skyscrapers on the other side.
For the exact location of Arc de Triomphe, check out the location map to the right.